Saturday, December 9 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 10 at 3:00 pm
Zion Lutheran Church, Sunbury
Featuring the traditional ringing-in of Christmas, with special guests:
Susquehanna Valley Youth Chorale
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Christmas is a musical time machine. At no other time of the year do we hear ancient Latin texts and medieval melodies in arrangements by composers from earlier centuries as well as the present. The familiar–and the very old–glow all the brighter in new settings.
Every Christmas Eve since 1919, Once in Royal David’s City has been the processional hymn of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The text, by Cecil Frances Alexander, was published in a hymnal for children in 1848. It was set to music a year later by the English organist, Henry John Gauntlett. Mrs. Alexander also wrote the words to the popular children’s hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.
Michael Praetorius [1571-1621] was an excellent organist and one of the most prolific and esteemed German composers of his time. The son of a Lutheran pastor, Praetorius composed most of his music for use in Lutheran churches and much of it is based on the chorale melodies collected by Martin Luther. Both the words and music of In dulci jubilo date from the late middle ages. Praetorius made his arrangement in 1607. The English words Good Christian Men, Rejoice were applied to the ancient melody in 1853.
Still a young man in his 30s, Ola Gjeilo [pronounced Yay-lo] has achieved world-wide acclaim for his choral compositions. The Latin text of Serenity [O Magnum Mysterium] is taken from the morning prayer service--matins–of Christmas Day. O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Alleluia!
Festival First Nowell was arranged by Dan Forrest [b. 1978], a graduate of Bob Jones University, where he has since served as chairman of the department of music theory and composition. The First Nowell appeared in print in Carols Ancient and Modern [London, 1833] although it may have been sung in Cornwall more than a century earlier when the word nowell was a synonym for Christmas in many parts of England.
The Norman Luboff Choir was one of the leading American choruses from the 1950s through the 1970s. The Choir’s recording of Still, Still, Still in 1958 was an instant hit, and Luboff’s arrangement has not lost any of its popularity. The melody probably originated in the region around Salzburg, Austria–Mozart’s birthplace and the setting for The Sound of Music–and was first published in a collection of folk songs in 1865.
We Three Kings of Orient Are was composed in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. [1820-1891]. Hopkins was was the son of an Episcopal bishop, born in Pittsburgh PA. He was teaching music at the General Theological Seminary in NYC when he wrote his popular carol for a Christmas pageant performed by his nieces and nephews. From 1876-87, Hopkins was rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport PA and in 1885 he delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Grant.
There are several theories about the three ships that sailed on Christmas Day into Bethlehem–then, as now, twenty miles away from the nearest body of water capable of supporting a vessel of any size. Perhaps the 17th century English author of I Saw Three Ships was thinking of the ships which brought the relics of the Magi to Cologne Cathedral in 1164 or of the ships on the coat of arms of the Bohemian King Wenceslaus II, who happened to share the same name as “good” King Wenceslaus, a tenth century saint. Another possibility is that the “ships’ of the carol are “ships of the desert” [camels]. Most likely, the author had no idea Bethlehem has never been a seaport or a river town.
In 1942, Benjamin Britten [1913-1976] sailed for England after several years’ residence in the U.S. During the voyage, he completed one of his best-loved works, A Ceremony of Carols. Britten used middle English poems he found in Gerald Bullett’s collection The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems. The author of This Little Babe was Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest who was hanged in London in 1595 and canonized in 1970. This little babe, so few days old, is come to rifle Satan’s fold.
Robert S. Cohen is well known to members and friends of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale as the composer of Alzheimer Stories, which the Chorale commissioned and premiered in 2009. Christmas Time is based on the poem Christmas Eve by Christina Georgina Rossetti. It was composed in 2010 and arranged by the composer for the Susquehanna Valley Chorale and Youth Chorus.
John Rutter [b. 1945] tells us that he wrote Candlelight Carol in 1984 as the result of a conversation with the director of a Catholic church choir …[who told him] “we’re only a small choir, nothing special, but we’d love you to write us a carol featuring the Virgin Mary”…When I started work the image that came into my mind was Geertgen’s lovely painting “Nativity at Night”….In a dark stable the Virgin Mary gazes down at the crib where Jesus is radiating a miraculous light illuminating her face.
Nancy Grundahl [b.1946] conducts three choirs in the Minneapolis area: a church choir, a children’s choir, and the women’s chorus of Augsburg University. Polish Lullaby is an arrangement of a 17th century Polish carol entitled Lulajze, Jezuniu.
Christmas Cantata Daniel Pinkham [1923-2006] was a prominent, Boston-based composer, organist, and harpsichordist who taught for almost fifty years at the New England Conservatory of Music where he established the early music performance program. His Christmas Cantata  uses traditional Latin texts–Quem vidistis, pastores? [Shepherds, who have you seen?]–O magnum mysterium [O great mystery]–Gloria in excelsis Deo [Glory to God in the highest]. The music itself reflects Pinkham’s eclectic taste, ranging from echoes of Orff’s Carmina Burana and hints of serialism to the Renaissance rhythms of the finale.